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Taking Aim at the Dallas Cowboys 53 Man Roster

John Williams

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Giants at Cowboys Trash Talk Begins With Janoris Jenkins, Dez Bryant

There is a lot that still needs to happen before the Dallas Cowboys’ 53 man roster takes shape in early September, but with all of the pieces added, there is a lot to like about how the roster may shape up at the end of preseason.

Because of my personality, I like to look at the possibilities. Well here is a possible outcome for the 53 man roster, as we sit in May.

Offense (23)

Quarterback (2)

While many would like to see another name sitting behind Dak Prescott on the depth chart, it’s unlikely that will happen, barring another training camp injury to backup, Kellen Moore.

The coaching staff likes Moore and the front office seems to like Moore as well, showing their comfort level as they were willing to head into the 2016 season with Moore as the backup.

This is one of those “In McClay we Trust” moments. They seem to like him, so let’s roll with him. Hopefully he’s never needed anyway.

Dallas Cowboys: Ranking Top 5 Most Indispensable Players 4

ARLINGTON, TX – NOVEMBER 24: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys rushes the ball during the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Running Back (5)

  • Ezekiel Elliott
  • Darren McFadden
  • Rod Smith
  • Keith Smith
  • Jahad Thomas

Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden’s roles are clearly delineated. Elliott is the work-horse three-down back, and McFadden is the versatile backup who can spell Elliott on early downs as well as passing downs.

Rod Smith’s presence on the roster will not surprise me when it happens. He plays on special teams and is a good power runner who can be used in short yardage situations.

Keith Smith is the team’s fullback. Years of trying to use a tight end to play fullback are gone as Smith has now cemented his place in the offense, even if he’s isn’t used very much. 

Absent is any kind of “scat back” that fans love, which I think is a bit overrated.

Everyone would love to have a Darren Sproles, James White, or Dion Lewis type of back, the problem is those guys are hard to find. Darren Sproles may be the best at what he does, EVER. I’d honestly rather give passing game snaps to Elliott and McFadden who may not be as quick, but offer as much speed and more power than a Lance Dunbar type.

It’s not unforeseeable that Ryan Switzer gets some of the Dunbar packages with his experience as a running back in high school.

Wide Receiver (5)

The three at the top are no surprise here. Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley have solidified their status as the top receiving options for the team. Williams’ blocking ability keeps him in the game and gives a boost to the run game.

Gone are Lucky Whitehead and Brice Butler with the additions of Switzer and 2017 7th round pick Noah Brown. Switzer will likely win the returner jobs, which leaves Whitehead’s place on the team in question.

Butler is a good receiver, at times, but has also had some untimely drops.

While Brown is a project, he offers an immediate upgrade in his blocking ability and his toughness and physicality could be used on special teams. Brown can be used in the same role that Vince Mayle was called up for in 2016: the big blocking wide receiver.

Dallas Cowboys: 5 Players To Watch At Rookie Minicamp 4

Dallas Cowboys Rico Gathers (80) participates in a drill during rookie mini-camp at the Dallas Cowboys headquarters at Valley Ranch in Irving on Saturday, May 7, 2016. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

Tight End (3)

  • Jason Witten
  • Rico Gathers
  • Geoff Swaim

I’m going a bit long here at tight end because I don’t think the team will be able to sneak Rico Gathers to the practice squad if he isn’t ready to take a regular spot on the game day roster.

Jason Witten is the TE1 until someone takes his job, which isn’t likely in 2017.

James Hanna and Geoff Swaim both offer good depth and run game blocking ability. I think the team wouldn’t mind going long to keep both of them if Gathers’ blocking ability isn’t ready to go. If it is, one of these two won’t make it. I’m thinking Hanna, who could also be a PUP candidate to start the year much like Darren McFadden and his NFI stint in 2016.

Offensive Line (9)

The biggest question with this group is where La’el Collins will play. He figures to start at either left guard or right tackle, but at the moment, that is an unknown. The Cowboys seem to be trying to find their best five players on the line. That could mean Jonathan Cooper becomes the starting left guard because Collins is the best right tackle option.

Byron Bell will be on the roster because he is a veteran presence that can play multiple spots on the offensive line.

If Chaz Green isn’t the starting right tackle then he will serve as the swing tackle again this year. Emmett Cleary serves as more tackle depth with Green’s injury history.

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Sep 3, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) rushes on Hawaii Warriors offensive lineman RJ Hollis (74) at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Defense (26)

Defensive Line (9)

Taco Charlton has a real shot to be a day-one starter, but on which side of the defensive line? That is a big question heading into OTAs. The team loves him, but where does he fit?

Charles Tapper is another Jaylon Smith story. Got a redshirt year his rookie season and appears to be healthy and has slimmed down a bit to get ready to play the right defensive end spot. He’ll have to get back into game shape, but could be an enormous addition to the defensive line rotation.

Outside of Stephen Paea and Cedric Thornton — who are best utilized as 1-technique tackles — and Maliek Collins at 3-technique, the rest of the defensive line group seems to be able to line up in several places.

Several guys found their stride at times last season like David Irving, Benson Mayowa, and Collins. The hope is they will take another step forward.

It seems like they have the depth now at defensive end that they can move Tyrone Crawford back to 3-technique. While he was effective at end, his best position is inside.

Linebacker (6)

Sean Lee made his first trip to the Pro Bowl last year and received a 1st team All-Pro award for his work on the weak side of the Dallas Cowboys 4-3 scheme. Talent has never been the issue with Lee, it was always health. Last year he had some luck in the health department and we got to see his talent over a full 16 games. Perfect fit on the weak side.

Jaylon Smith might be the most eagerly awaited debut of any defensive player we have drafted since DeMarcus Ware. If he is healthy, he will be the starter in the middle and after reading Staff Writer Kevin Brady’s scouting review, we are going to love what he brings to the defense.

That leaves the strong side linebacker spot to be battled over in camp and throughout the season. Damien Wilson was very effective over there, but the team will also give Anthony Hitchens a shot as well.

While six linebackers may not be enough, let’s not forget that Keith Smith has some experience there and could provide depth if needed. Your seventh linebacker is probably around for special teams play, which the team can get from Keith Smith, Rod Smith, and Robert Blanton.

Anthony Brown

Cornerback (6)

Count me as someone who didn’t see a need to go defensive back in the first round during the draft. I thought that Nolan Carroll’s addition equated that of Brandon Carr, with a bit more turnover potential, and Anthony Brown was a player to watch to take another step forward. Orlando Scandrick was going to be another year removed from his injury and better prepared for the season.

While they didn’t invest a first round pick, they certainly invested heavily at cornerback during the draft.

Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were added to the cornerback group and both have a shot at significant playing time as soon as week one.

While I think it’s more likely that Carroll and Brown are your week one starters on the outside and Scandrick in the slot, training camp competition could certainly change all of that. Awuzie and Lewis both have tremendous ability and can contribute right away. The question is will the coaching staff and front office be willing to give two rookies significant playing time week one and let them grow?

I could see a scenario where Scandrick is a camp casualty because of the play of Lewis and Awuzie. If both show they are ready to go, Scandrick, at his advanced age for a cornerback, could be on the way out as the team gets younger.

Marquez White offers very intriguing athleticism and length that I would like to keep on the active roster and develop. Especially if the team releases Scandrick, White becomes depth on the outside.

Safety (5)

Byron Jones is entrenched as the starter at one of the safety spots. Because they like to use a rotation, there will be plenty of snaps for Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier, on defense as well as special teams.

Robert Blanton figures to be depth and he’ll add to special teams while providing some veteran depth in case the younger guys don’t hold up to the pressures of starting at safety opposite Jones. The hope is that through competition, the cream will rise to the top and they will be able to replace Barry Church‘s production over the last few years.

Heath and Woods have shown a penchant for creating turnovers and making plays on the football, which is something this Rod Marinelli defense has been missing.

Awuzie’s ability to also play safety allows Dallas to only carry four players here.

Cowboys Headlines - Martin's 5: K Dan Bailey Might Be Cause For Conservative Cowboys Coaching

Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey (5) celebrates with his teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. The Cowboy defeated the Redskins 19-16. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Special Teams (3)

  • Dan Bailey
  • Chris Jones
  • L.P. Ladouceur

There will be camp bodies at each of these positions, but this group is set. They’ve been good to great at what they do.

Where did I go wrong? Where did I go right? Let me know below. 

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I didn't start out as a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quickly as I could. I grew up a Joe Montana fan when he was with the 49ers and followed him to the Chiefs, until we moved to Texas. I've now been a Fan of the Boys since the Dark Days of the Post-Aikman, Pre-Romo era of abysmal quarterback play, now relishing in more than a decade of franchise quarterbacking for America's Team.

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4 Comments
  • DoubleCraven

    Jaylon Smith might be the most eagerly awaited debut of any defensive player we have drafted since DeMarcus Ware” I’d say drafting Claiborne at #6 made him pretty eagerly awaited too. People thought he was going to be the second coming of Deon….regardless of how he turned out.

    • John Williams

      Perhaps it’s recency bias and the nature of Twitter in 2017, but the hype over the last year has grown to tremendous levels.

      • DoubleCraven

        No doubt, You would have thought Ray Lewis and Mike Singletary had a love child and named him Jaylon.

  • JT

    one less running back/fullback and put butler back in at wide receiver

Star Blog

Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Star Blog

Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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